Commenting on the fourth anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed more than 1100 people in Bangladesh, Oxfam Australia inequality policy advisor Joy Kyriacou said:
“Four years after the tragic Rana Plaza factory collapse that prompted an international outcry, there is still a long way to go to ensure the people who make our clothes work in safe and fair conditions.
“Oxfam has been pushing the companies that make the clothes Australians love to bring their supply chains out of the dark and publish the names and addresses of their factories all over the world.
“Since Oxfam last published an update in the lead-up to Christmas, leading fashion retailers ASOS and UNIQLO have joined the list of 10 major retailers in Australia that have come good on transparency since the Rana Plaza collapse.
“But another five leading retailers in our market – including those behind iconic brands such as Just Jeans, Peter Alexander, Gorman, Dangerfield, Zara, Topshop and Best & Less – are lagging behind their competitors by refusing to lift the cloak of secrecy around where their garments are made.
“There has also been progress in companies joining Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. It now includes 12 major Australian brands, with newcomers including Noni B and APG, whose brands include Sportscraft, SABA and JAG. The Accord is a world-leading initiative that brings together unions, companies and government to independently inspect factories for safety.
“But there are still many problems faced by the people – 80 per cent of them women – who make our clothes. Many of the factories inspected still need repairs and safety measures to be implemented.
“Not only this, wages in this industry are notorious for keeping people in poverty. A recent World Economic Forum Report found that garment workers in Bangladesh receive around 0. 6 per cent of a t-shirt’s retail price, while retailers enjoy a commercial margin of 42.6 per cent.
“Minimum wages are so inadequate, people have no choice but to work excessive hours to get by. During peak production periods, working hours can increase to up to 90 hours a week. In several garment producing countries, illegal wage practices are widespread, with a significant proportion of workers being paid less than 80 per cent of the minimum wage.
“There is also a role for the Australian Government, which is right now considering creating a Modern Slavery Act for Australia. This Act should ensure that companies are doing all they can to weed out practices that make work unsafe, insecure and unfair.
“When Oxfam visited garment workers in Bangladesh in December last year, we met women who have been working in the garment industry from as young as 12 – but their living conditions haven’t improved. Even after working gruelling hours in the factories that make clothes for global fashion brands they are struggling to survive.
“Oxfam is calling for change. All garment companies must publicly disclose their factory and supplier lists as a first step towards accountability and ensuring the human rights of the people who make our clothes are upheld.”
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